Cancer awareness afternoon: lots of learning and lots of fun!

In partnership with NHS West London CCG, the Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Yarrow hosted a breast and cervical cancer awareness afternoon at the Kensington Leisure Centre.

Unfortunately, women with a learning disability are less likely than the general population to attend for breast screening or cervical screening. A study by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust shows that women with learning disabilities are 45 per cent less likely to be screened for cancer compared to their counterparts without learning disabilities, and a separate study found that only around half of women with learning disabilities attend for routine breast cancer screening, compared to around two thirds of women without learning disabilities. Spreading awareness and information to help boost screening uptake is vital.

Lots of people attended the afternoon and listened to talks from experts about how to spot early signs of cancer, and what to expect from routine screening. The workshop began with a welcome by Carrie Hirst, Engagement & Partnership Manager at NHS West London Clinical Commissioning Group, who explained that today was a chance to enjoy ourselves while we learn and to help us all to feel more confident about attending screening appointments.

Rifat Wahhab, Carrie Hirst, Karen Hobb, Victoria Harmer and Martyne O’Reilly get the afternoon started.

Rifat Wahhab, Strategic Health Facilitator in Kensington and Chelsea Borough, let everyone know about the buddy scheme: they will help to find someone to accompany you to appointments if you would like some extra support. Yarrow’s Martyne O’Reilly also talked about what to expect from the day, and how important it is to tell people around you if you notice any changes in your body or you are worried at all. We watched a short video on how to check your breasts for lumps or changes.

Then it was time to hear more about the screening process.

The first people to speak were Caroline and Anne, who are experts by experience. Anne uses a wheelchair and explained how you can ask for a hoist in advance, and that she found it helpful to take a buddy along to her screening appointment. Caroline talked about her cervical screening and what it was like, and not to be afraid to say if you are uncomfortable. Enormous thanks to Anne and Caroline for being so frank and open, and helping to dispel some myths.

Caroline and Anne talk about their experiences

Next up was Karen Hobb from The Eve Appeal. Karen explained how cervical screening works with the help of a doughnut-shaped cushion! She had a real speculum on hand so that everyone could see the size and that, unlike in the past, it is not made of metal. She talked through the whole process and what you can expect, including some tips to make it more comfortable, such as asking for the speculum to be warmed up, and asking the screening nurse to use a smaller size if you prefer.

Karen Hobb from The Eve Appeal

Then Dr. Victoria Harmer, Macmillan consultant nurse at Imperial College Health Care NHS Trust, gave a talk about the signs of breast cancer and how breast cancer screening works. With a few fabulous props, including large balloon-filled breasts and some life-sized prostheses with ‘lumps’ hidden inside, she had everyone’s full attention! We learnt lots about when to talk to your support team or your GP about your breasts – for example, if they change shape or size, if they are painful when they wouldn’t normally be, or if your nipples become sore or have a discharge – and how to check yourself for lumps. This means feeling all over, right up to your collar bone and under your armpits.

Victoria Harmer, Macmillan Nurse

After the talks we stopped for lunch and had a game of bingo. Our thanks to Caroline who persuaded local businesses to donate the prizes!

A quick game of Bingo with Yarrow’s Martyne O’Reilly and Maura Ireland!

The day was a great success: everyone asked lots of questions and learnt a lot. Taking care of your health is all about knowing what is normal for you and making sure you speak to someone if that changes. We hope that the event will encourage more women to take up their invitations to routine screening. Our thanks to everyone that was involved in putting on this fun and informative event, and to everyone that attended for their enthusiasm and openness. If you want to find out more about screening, why not take a look at these resources?

Labake enjoying the afternoon!

Later this month Yarrow is hosting a male cancer awareness event for men with a learning disability to find out more about testicular and prostate cancer. The event will take place on Monday 25th November at The Invention Rooms in White City, W12 7TA. For more information or to book a place, please email our Events team on

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